Adaptogenic Herbs for Horses
When I took Dr. Kellon’s Nutrition as Therapy course several years ago, one of the many things I learned about was adaptogenic herbs–the ‘kingly’ herbs. I have used them regularly with my horses ever since.
Adaptogenic herbs are defined as ‘herbs which result in the stabilization of physiological processes and promotion of homeostasis, for example decreased cellular sensitivity to stress.’ They have the ability to regulate the cortisol response to exercise or stressful situations. They also boost the immune system.
Used for centuries by people and animals in Asia, adaptogenic herbs are now becoming more well-known in the Western world. They’ve been the subject of multiple studies and their efficacy and safety has been proven.
So what, exactly can adaptogenic herbs do for your horse (or you)? Here are a few general effects (though it can vary depending on the plant). Most adaptogenic herbs will:
- Boost the immune system by increasing white blood cell counts;
- Act as antioxidants;
- Delay fatigue during exercise;
- Protect the heart muscle;
- Lower and stabilize blood glucose levels; and
- Optimize fat utilization for energy.
It seems obvious that many horses could benefit from adaptogenic herbs, including horses in training, performance horses, horses recovering from illness, and those with conditions such as insulin resistance, equine metabolic syndrome, or Cushing’s disease.
The following are a few commonly used adaptogenic herbs for horses and their specific effects:
Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) – reduces effects of stress and heat stress, increases energy and endurance, supports immune function.
Chinese Magnolia Vine (Schizandra chinensis) – combats fatigue, enhances physical performance and recovery, promotes healthy liver function, promotes healthy digestion and healing of gastric ulcers, and increases resistance to disease and stress.
Golden Root (Rhodilia rosea) – provides immune support and improves physical stamina and mental concentration.
Asian Devil’s Club (Echinopanax elatus) – helps regulate blood sugar and cardiac function.
Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum)— supports cardiovascular health, increases blood flow, reduces effects of stress. (I, personally, use this one a lot. Read more about jiaogulan in this post.)
Cautions with Adaptogenic Herbs
Although adaptogenic herbs have shown to be very safe in studies, they can interfere with certain drugs. Personally, I would not give them in conjunction with any drug (except pergolide for Cushing’s.) My advice is to do your research on any herb before giving it to your horse. And don’t substitute herbs for responsible veterinary care.
Where to Get Adaptogenic Herbs
You can order most of these herbs individually through companies that sell herbs (like herbalcom) or through Amazon. There is also a company called Auburn Labs, which sells adaptogenic herbal blends for specific equine conditions. I’ve heard good things about their products.
Dosage of Adaptogenic Herbs for Horses
Dosage of adaptogenic herbs will vary according to the herb and what you’re using it for, but you may have to experiment with them a bit to see what works for your horse. If you have an equine herbalist or a holistic vet you can refer to, that would be a good idea.
Dr. Kellon recommends to feed jiaogulan at 1-2 tsp twice a day for Cushing’s horses and at 2000 mg per day for a severely ill horse. She also recommends 2000 mg per day of Golden Root for a severely ill horse (though not simultaneously with jiaogulan.) The good news is that studies have shown adaptogneic herbs to be safe, with minimal side effects reported, even at high doses.